Interview with Kate Hamer (author of ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’)
[Q]: Hello Kate, nice to meet you and thank you for joining us. Let’s start with some background: was writing fiction your first professional calling, and if not, how and when did you start writing?
[A]: Hello! I think like many writers the itch was always there – from a very young age. But how many people actually think, ‘Well, I’m off to be a writer,’ at the age of eighteen? I had a family and worked in television for a long time, writing when I could. Then one day I just thought, this is it – I need to start committing to this or I’ll be frustrated for evermore.
[Q]: ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ is a novel that works on several levels, both in terms of genre and narrative voices, and we’d like to explore them with you. The first question is about genre: if you wanted to pin a label on the novel (please feel free to say so if you don’t!) how would you classify it?
[A]: I don’t mind pinning labels but I think, like many books, ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ is a mixture of genres. There’s a terrible crime involved but it’s not a traditional procedural crime novel. It could also be termed as a ‘psychological thriller’ or a ‘coming of age’ novel. I never tried to write to genre and maybe that’s why it could be put in several categories. Your review described it as a ‘twenty-first century fairy tale’ and I really like that – it fits exactly with what I was trying to do.
[Q]:We loved how the child protagonist Carmel and her mother Beth ‘speak’ with voices that don’t just reflect their age difference, but also a different narrative viewpoint, Carmel’s voice being first-person singular and Beth’s third-person. Why did you choose to do so?
[A]: I wanted to draw a distinction between them, not only in language and voice, but in the time that they inhabit. Tense is always a big decision for me – somehow everything seems to flow from what you choose. In the end I liked that it felt that Beth was telling her story as if looking back on it. I had the sense of her being like a friend and after not having seen her for a long time we sat down and she told me of the awful, traumatic event in her life. Carmel on the other hand occupies the present moment. Not only did it create difference but I felt it gave a sort of tension to the narrative, a slightly ‘dislocated’ feeling that suited the terrible events.
[Q]: In our review we underlined how we saw a fairy tale element running through the story, and yet how it’s grippingly tense from the very beginning. Do you think these are fair assessments, and how can the twin elements of fairy tale and suspense coexist?
[A]: Yes, as I said – I felt this description was spot on. I was raised on fairy tales and if you think about them they are not twee imaginings at all. I think of Bluebeard, of Snow White’s stepmother ordering her step-daughter’s heart to be ripped out because of the girl’s burgeoning beauty, and little Red Riding Hood eaten by the wolf. They are terrifying! So I think the two things coexist very well because there is always extreme peril in fairy tales.
[Q]: About readership: did you have a specific type of reader in mind (age, gender etc.) when you wrote ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’? Why? And what has the experience been so far, who’s reading and appreciating (besides us of course!) the novel?
[A]: That’s an interesting one! I don’t think I had a specific age or gender in mind for a reader when I was writing the book, although I hoped that it might be a book that young adult readers might engage with along with older readers. So far it’s been a very mixed readership, I worried that the ‘girl’ in the title might put male readers off but that doesn’t seem to be the case so far – really, I don’t think readers are as hidebound as that anyway.
[Q]: Finally, which advice would you give to prospective fiction authors? What do you think is the key skill to have to produce a good contemporary novel, crime or otherwise?
[A]: Go with your instincts with the story. Don’t talk about it too much at least until you have it clear in your own head and have begun to write. Don’t tell the story you think people will want to hear, tell the story that’s burning inside you, that you think about at nights looking at the ceiling! Read – and read contemporary stuff as well as the classics. In fact that’s probably the most important one – just keep reading. Reading is the key.
TBJ: Thank you very much for your time Kate, and we look forward to reading more of your work soon!
THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT by Kate Hamer is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)
Photo credit: Mei Williams